The names may be from another era, the faces almost forgotten, but the old Carter Democrats do turn out for their own.

Last night, the occasion was in honor of Carter's first attorney general and longtime friend, Griffin Bell, who is releasing his memoirs in the form of an already published essay entitled "Taking Care of the Law."

A melting pot of Carterites, a lot of the media cream and a smattering of Reagan aides rallied around the courtly author at the Hay Adams Hotel.

In this case, the "out" group was overwhelmingly "in." Democratic well-wishers pinned Bell into the corner of the dimly lit ballroom to get his autograph--talking about John Hinckley, law firms and the good old days--while the Republican tokens made their polite appearances and dashed off.

As quickly as the Reaganites disappeared, so did the 50 copies of the judge's book, which were distributed free among the 250 or so partyers.

The book's co-author, Los Angeles Times correspondent Ronald Ostrow, said the work was Bell's "road map on how to govern from the viewpoint of someone who's been there."

It has already garnered a lot of attention for its reference to former vice president Walter Mondale's high profile White House presence as having a "profound and adverse effect on the Carter Presidency."

Mondale, although invited to the reception, never showed up.

Bell's prote'ge' and handpicked successor, Benjamin Civiletti, did show up, however, and engaged in a somewhat academic discussion on What Went Wrong in the Carter Administration.

"Few presidents, if any, would have had the courage and strength to practice restraint in the Iranian hostage crisis and survived politically," said Civiletti, who is now practicing law in Washington and his hometown, Baltimore. "The Mondale thing is too handy an explanation for me."

Some Carter aides declined the offer to reminisce on either the good times or the bad. "I'll save it for a book of my own," said Lloyd Cutler, who served as Carter's presidential counsel.

Other Carter wigs weren't about to miss the chance to take a few shots at the present administration's goings-on. "The budget's a real mess right now," glowed James McIntyre Jr., the former OMB head. "The time is long past that they can blame us."

But reunions being, well, reunions, the subject naturally turned to who was doing what and, of course, for which law firm.

Former senator Birch Bayh (D-Ind.) didn't have much time to respond to the inquiry. But like a lot of the other Democratic minglers, he handily reached for a business card on his way to another fund-raiser. "I'm practicing law up there on the 10th floor, trying to pay the bills."

"Hey, where's the rooster pepper sausage?" asked Judge Bell. He had five pounds of the delicacy flown up from Georgia in a friend's corporate jet.

The extremely hot sausage--made from the fruit of the rooster spur pepper plant, reputedly an aphrodisiac--became a running joke in the Carter administration when the Justice Department refused to disclose the allegedly exclusive recipe.

Last night, there was discrepancy of a different sort. There simply wasn't enough to go around. "They say they lost 2 1/2 pounds somewhere between here and Georgia," said the judge.